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Another Portland Blog

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

Panda-Powered Sociopathy or the Story Behind February's Photo of the Month

Here's another Tokyo anecdote for y'all.

Much like the Space Needle*, a 365-day a year carnival resides beneath the Tokyo Tower. We hit the tower on a Tuesday afternoon and pretty much had the place to ourselves. Mixed in among the same sort of carnival rides that can be found in the US was an arcade filled with only-in-Japan video games.

Near the entrance sat a six-foot tall Pikachu machine along the lines of the mechanical pony rides found outside of supermarkets. Inside its belly was a tiny seat and a steering wheel/dial covered with pictures of his cartoon cohorts. I tried to operate Pikachu but all he did was scream at me in Japanese through a worn stereo speaker. No matter what I did, the machine spun in a circle as plastic balls filled with candy and stickers rolled down a shoot and into the cockpit every 30 seconds. I "won" four of them before Pikachu stopped berating me and finally sputtered to a halt.

Somehow, the magical, mystical Pikachu machine wasn't as weird as the arm-wrestling game or the robotic panda bear in the photo above. After hitting the arcade, we turned a corner and found this young family riding around. Entranced by what may or may not be the most amazing thing ever built with human hands, we followed them through the park. A few minutes later, we found a second panda parked next to a miniature train ride.

A ride on the panda cost 50 yen and lasted about five minutes. There was a red steering wheel connected to his neck and a reverse/forward shifter attached to his spine. As we rode around, a speaker buried in his chest played a music-box-esque tune. Much like we had done, others stopped and took pictures of our mini-spectacle.

Despite my repeated, not-so-subtle suggestions, my colleague refused to drive the bear into a wall. After I finally convince her to let me take over the controls, I didn't have time to steer the panda towards something that would inevitably lead to us getting arrested. The bear came to a stop a few feet away from a metal barrier. I searched my pockets for more coins but finally came to my senses.

That's right, I realized that there was no way a mechanical panda bear packing roughly .3 horsepower would do anything but mindlessly mash its head against the fence like a battery-powered toy puppy. Without the ability to upgrade the bear’s motor with something diesel-fueled, my dreams of causing panda-powered mayhem at a Japanese carnival weren't about to become a reality.

*sigh* Another lost opportunity on the road o' life, I guess. Se la vie.

The moral of this story? Oaks Park could really use more mechanical panda bears.

-------

*Actually, the Space Needle's carnival isn't beneath it. It's actually a few hundred feet away. Whatever.

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